Geneticist investigated for misconduct
University of Wisconsin-Madison finds questionable data in several studies; co-authors defend work
An investigation into the work of Elizabeth Goodwin, a former associate professor of genetics and medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
, has found "several publications in which at least one figure was questionable," according to William Mellon, the university's associate dean for research policy, who commissioned the probe late last year.
The papers containing the questionable data appeared in Molecular Cell
(in which Goodwin is the senior author), Nature Structural & Molecular Biology
, and Developmental Biology
at The Scripps Research Institute, senior author of the Nature Structural & Molecular Biology
paper, told The Scientist
in an Email that Goodwin's work is not crucial to the conclusions and integrity of the paper. Williamson said he had not been contacted about the paper, and was surprised to hear her research was under scrutiny. "She was always very careful in scientific discussions, very precise and careful to say what you knew and what you didn't know," he recalled.
Co-authors from the other papers in question did not respond to requests for comment.
Goodwin's research focuses on sexual development and sex determination in C. elegans
. She was the last author of a 2003 paper in Science,
which showed that hermaphrodites produced by mating are better able to survive environmental changes than those produced by self-fertilization.
Goodwin resigned her position at the university in February, where she had received over $1.8 million dollars in federal grants. She held a $1 4 million NIH grant between 2002 and 2006 and a $300,000 NIH grant scheduled to run from 2005 to 2009. She also received more than $94,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Goodwin did not respond to requests for comment from The Scientist
. A former colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said he did not know where she was, and she had not returned his phone messages.
Mellon said the investigation is complete, and the school is preparing to submit its findings in the next several weeks to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity
. This report will include the names of the publications containing the questionable data, he said.
Allegations concerning Goodwin's work arose in late 2005, after graduate students in her lab became suspicious of preliminary results in a grant application. The students notified the chair of her department, which triggered preliminary and more detailed investigations, said Mellon. A committee of three university researchers conducted the probe.
A next step is to contact the co-authors of the suspect papers to make a decision on what to do about the publications, Mellon noted. If the figures in question alter the summary and conclusions of the papers, "then obviously they need to make a decision that we have to contact the editors," he said. He added that the school would likely contact the journals regardless.
Marvin Wickens of the University of Wisconsin-Madison was senior author on a paper in Molecular and Cellular Biology
that included Goodwin as second author. He told The Scientist
he was confident of the results because the key experiments were done in his lab.
y did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Lynne Herndon, President and CEO of Cell Press, which publishes the journal Molecular Cell
, said the journal is "aware of the investigation," and has contacted the University. "Pending the results of the investigation, we will consider the implications, if any, for the Molecular Cell
Linda Miller, US executive editor at Nature
and the Nature Research
journals, told The Scientist
that Nature Structural & Molecular Biology
learned of the allegations about the paper Friday (June 2) from a reporter, but has not yet been contacted by the University. Miller added that most of the work on the NSMB
paper was conducted outside of Goodwin's lab. "So even in a worst case scenario, the major conclusions would be okay," she said. "But we don't know what the worst case scenario is yet."
Links within this article
University of Wisconsin-Madison
S.Kuersten et al., "NXF-2, REF-1, and REF-2 affect the choice of nuclear export pathway for tra-2 mRNA in C. elegans
," Molecular Cell
, June 4, 2004
S.P. Ryder, et al. "RNA target specificity of the STAR/GSG domain post-transcriptional regulatory protein GLD-1," Nature Structural & Molecular Biology
, January. 2004.
Lakiza, O, et al."STAR proteins quaking-6 and GLD-1 regulate translation of the homologues GLI1 and tra-1 through a conserved RNA 3'UTR-based mechanism," Developmental Biololgy
, November 1, 2005.
V. Prahlad et.al., "Roles for mating and environment in C. elegans
sex determination," Science
, November 7, 2003.
Office of Research Integrity
S.R. Thompson, et al. "Rapid deadenylation and Poly(A)-dependent translational repression mediated by the Caenorhabditis elegans
tra-2 3' untranslated region in Xenopus embryos," Molecular Cell Biology
, March, 2000.